Friday, September 20, 2013
There is a story of a family that was driving home from dinner at a restaurant one night when all of a sudden flashing lights and a police car pulled up behind them. The father of the family pulled over and the police officer approached. The father meant to say, "Is there a problem?" What he said, instead, was "Do you have a problem?" Not the question you want to ask an officer when you have been caught speeding. Fortunately, for this family, the driver was given a warning and told to be more careful next time. What the driver experienced was mercy. St. Paul says in today's second reading: "I have been mercifully treated." The image of the Father of the parable of the prodigal son has been reproduced in some famous paintings. Rembrandt's painting is one of the most famous-it was the subject of a book by Henry Nouwen. Jewish scholar Montefiore holds that this parable (the parable of the Prodigal Son), the parable of the lost coin, and the parable of the lost sheep all highlight the fact that Jesus' message is something new. "Behold I make all things new" it says in the Book of Revelation. In Montefiore's words: "The idea of a God who will invite the sinner back is not new; but the idea of a God who will go and seek for the sinner, and who wants men to do the same, is something completely new." Two themes are common to all three parables. First, in each one, Jesus emphasizes that he not only welcomes the penitent sinner back-He actively goes out and seeks the sinner until he finds him. God is the hound of heaven, so to speak. This comes out most clearly in the parable of the lost sheep: "What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the 99 in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home he calls together his friends and his neighbors saying to them 'Rejoice with me for I have found my sheep which was lost.' Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over the 99 righteous persons who have no need of repentance." Blessed John Paul II was a strong advocate of the God of mercy. He died on the vigil of the Feast of Divine Mercy and there is speculation that he may be canonized on the Feast of Divine Mercy. On May 13, 1981 while travelling around St. Peter's Square the pope was shot point blank by Mehmet Ali Agca, a Turkish Assassin. The pope's first words when he left the hospital were, "I forgive him." In a remarkable meeting the was captured on video Pope John Paul II met with Ali Agca in person and embraced him. Agca went to confession and in the Pope's words "he seemed very interested in Our Lady of Fatima-he did not understand how the bullet did not kill him." We believe that the hands of Our Lady guided the bullet past a major artery and the Pope's heart. Our Lord told St. Faustina these words which she recorded in her Diary: "My mercy is greater than your sins and those of the entire world. Who can measure the extent of my goodness? For you I descended from Heaven to earth; for you I allowed myself to be nailed to the cross; for you I let my sacred heart be pierced with a lance, thus opening wide the source of mercy for you. Come then with trust to draw graces from this fountain." A second theme common to all three parables is the great joy Our Lord manifests whenever he is able to rescue lost sinners and bring them home to his heart. Here is the parable of the lost coin: " or what woman having ten coins and losing one would not light a lamp and sweep the house searching carefully until she finds it? And when she does find it, she calls together her friends and neighbors and says to them, 'Rejoice with me because I have found the coin that I lost. In just the same way, I tell you there will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents. In our own family we got to experience this. Our dog Mozart was brought to Colchester Veterinary hospital with an issue regarding his back leg. The technician came out to assist and Mozart, with the bad leg, mind you, leaps out of his hands and runs for the hills. We had the state police, the radio, everyone was on alert for Mozart. We would get reports that he was on someone's front lawn, only to have him take off again. I had everyone in the seminary praying for him (I did not tell them what they were praying for). At the end of the second day we were beginning to give up hope. My dad was in a wooded area near a golf course when suddenly he heard a rustling sound. It was Mozart! Mozart wiggled and came over and my dad was overjoyed. You can imagine how much God, who is infinite, rejoices when someone who is lost returns! Our Lord tells St. Faustina: "With my mercy I pursue sinners along all their paths, and My heart rejoices when they return to me. I forget all the bitterness with which they fed my heart and rejoice in their return....what joy fills my heart when you return to me. Because you are weak, I take you in my arms and carry you to the home of my Father." And how does the Father rejoice? It says in the prophet Zephaniah: "The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior, who will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love." In his encyclical on mercy John Paul II states: " Mercy, as Christ has presented it in the parable of the prodigal son- has the interior form of the love that in the New Testament is called agape. This love is able to reach down to every prodigal son, to every human misery, to sin. When this happens, the person who is the object of mercy does not feel humiliated, but rather found again and that he has returned to life." I think this is part of the appeal of the book and musical Les Miserables. Valjean, imprisoned for years for stealing a loaf of bread is finally released. He returns to his town but he is shunned. A bishop takes him in , feeds him, and gives him a room for the night.Tempted, Valjean steals silverware from the Bishop. The Bishop, touched by mercy, when Valjean is captured and brought back to his residence, replies: "You forgot to take these candlesticks as well." Valjean goes to a church and vows to change his life. One act of mercy and his life is changed. This is the prodigal love of the God we have. A Father who takes the initiative in calling His children back. A son who dies on a cross and allows his heart to be pierced by a sword. A God who searches for the lost sheep and carries it back on his shoulders. A God who throws a feast for the prodigal son who returns. A God who rejoices over a lost coin being found. As the prophet Hosea says: " When Israel was a child I loved him. Out of Egypt I called my Son....Yet it was I who took them in my arms; but they did not know that I cared for them. I drew them with human cords, with bands of love; I fostered them like those who raise an infant to their cheeks; I bent down to feed them." A God of mercy who initiates. A God of mercy who rejoices. What an awesome God!